Film Local Focus: “Dear Walt” Review

Today, we look at a production produced locally in MN, Dear Walt.

Courtesy of H8C Productions
Courtesy of H8C Productions

It’s extraordinarily difficult to encapsulate the life of one person in one movie. Especially if that person is a loved one.

Dear Walt is a story about a son reconnecting with his father. It has been five years since director Nathan “Rudy” Pavich has seen his father, Walt. During that encounter, Walt didn’t seem to recognize Rudy. Walt has gone through quite a few struggles in his life – addiction, death, divorce – yet those close to him can’t help but speak his praises. Accompanied by just his producer/cinematographer Justin Christopher Ayd, Rudy surprises Walt and attempts to uncover questions he’s been asking his whole life.

The goal of the documentary is two-fold. First, the movie wants to explore the life and times of its subject. Second, the film seeks to bring resolution to a relationship that has been a bit tumultuous. Dear Walt succeeds on both of these levels, but only at a surface level.

Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, Dear Walt is at the crossroads between being an in-depth feature and a succinct short film. A re-edit could easily make the movie into a clean and interesting short documentary. There are certainly more than a few scenes and moments that don’t seem to add much to the story.

But Dear Walt is missing the deep moments that would allow it to build into something bigger. Right now, it seems like the first act of Winnebago Man. Winnebago Man features a cranky old man who gained cult notoriety after an expletive-laced outtakes tape of a Winnebago commercial. When the filmmakers first meet the “Winnebago Man,” he is calm and peaceful. It’s only until multiple meetings have passed that the audience really gets a feel for who this man is.

Dear Walt has an interesting premise, but all of the actors in play are too cautious for anything truly interesting to happen. The film simply feels a bit too performative. A majority of Walt’s soundbites come from one interview, and the camera’s effect on Walt is apparent. When Rudy starts to ask some of the more meaningful questions (such as why Walt was never around when Rudy was a child), Walt freezes up.

As such, the audience never gets to see any turn past the family being happy to be reunited. The pair hasn’t seen each other in half a decade, and all the audience is left to chew on is the happy awkwardness of the reconnection.

That’s not to say that there is any lack of powerful emotions. There are many heartfelt moments throughout, but the audience doesn’t get a chance to soak them in. Pavich’s editing exists at a rapid-fire pace throughout, not holding on a single angle for more than a few seconds. The result is emotions that seem a bit too clean. The movie is missing some of the raw feelings that one would hope to see from Walt and his family.

That said, the fast-paced editing keeps the film moving, and the movie stays engaging throughout. Ayd’s cinematography keeps the film looking professional, and there is obviously quite a bit of love put into the project. Dear Walt appears to be a fulfilling personal project, but that doesn’t quite translate into a fulfilling experience for the audience. In the end, Dear Walt holds a lot of potential, but the letter feels a little incomplete.

Dear Walt is available to watch for free at http://www.dearwaltmovie.com

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